California Court: No Preemption of State Law Claims for Bank

Banks have a special weapon in employment litigation (including wrongful termination and even discrimination claims). The National Bank Act preempts these state law claims, at least as they relate to bank "officers."

So, may a bank subject to the National Bank Act designate "officers" at will to come within the preemption provisions? No, said the court of appeal in Ramanathan v. Bank of America. Quoting from an earlier California Supreme Court case, the court reviewed the criteria for evaluating whether a bank employee is an "officer" and covered by the National Bank Act's discharge provisions:

a bank ‘officer’ within the meaning of section 24 possesses the following attributes: First, he or she holds an office created by the board of directors and listed in the bank’s bylaws. (Citation.) Second, he or she is appointed by the board of directors, either directly or pursuant to a delegation of board authority set forth in the bylaws. (Citations.) Third, he or she has the express legal authority to bind the bank in its transactions with borrowers, depositors, customers, or other third parties by executing contracts or other legal instruments on the bank’s behalf. (Citation.)
Fourth, his or her decision-making authority, however it might be limited by
bank rule or policy, relates to fundamental banking operations in such a manner
as to affect potentially the public’s trust in the banking institution. (Citation.) If a particular bank employee holds a position possessing these features, he or she may be viewed as the bank itself in the eyes of third parties. Such an employee is an ‘officer’ and serves at the pleasure of the board of directors.”

The court then applied these criteria and found that Ramanathan, a "vice president," raised a triable issue of fact as to whether he was an officer under the National Bank Act. Therefore, the court vacated summary judgment and remanded for trial on Ramanathan's claims for discrimination, harassment and wrongful termination brought under California law.

Thanks to Connecticut Employment Law Blog for reminding me to post about this case.